Hitachi to Conduct Proof of Concept Testing of an Influenza Forecasting Service at Muji Store in Osaka
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As warnings of the 8th wave of COVID-19 increase, there is concern of a simultaneous outbreak with influenza. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) is calling for measures to be enacted that control the spread of infection in preparation for a simultaneous outbreak with the presumption of a total of 750,000 people (450,000 infected with COVID-19 and 300,000 with influenza) as the maximum number of people infected per day.
Against this backdrop, Hitachi initiated a proof-of-concept test on November 28, 2022 at MUJI Grand Front Osaka by installing monitor that display information on the predicted spread of influenza with the aim of raising influenza prevention awareness among customers, while at the same time placing Muji hot water bottles, soups and other products, next to the monitor.
Monitor displaying forecasts on outbreaks
MUJI Grand Front Osaka is patronized by more than 600,000 people a year who buy groceries and other daily necessities. Inside the store, a monitor displaying information forecasting influenza outbreaks has been installed, enabling customers to check the expected influenza outbreak status in Osaka on a four-level basis up to two weeks in advance. The outbreak forecast information is provided by Hitachi's Infectious Disease Forecasting Service, which uses AI to make predictions.
Mr. Hisashi Takeyama of Ryohin Keikaku, which operates Muji stores, said, "People worldwide are preparing for influenza outbreaks in addition to COVID-19 outbreaks. By providing outbreak forecast information to customers who come to our store, we hope to contribute to the comfortable lives of our customers by encouraging them to take precautions to avoid contracting influenza."
Next to the monitor is a display of products that change weekly based on the themes of "Eat," "Sleep," "Walk," "Clean," and "Warm."
"Muji will be placing products, such as masks and hot water bottles, next to the monitor to offer suggestions for products that Muji believes will be useful during that season. This week's theme is "Eat," and we have prepared minestrone soup and other products. Our suggestion is to drink soup to warm your body and mind, and lead a regular life. We believe that this will lead to a healthy lifestyle," says Mr. Takeyama.
Achieving a "truthful and sustainable life for all"
Mr. Takeyama says the impetus for the proof-of-concept testing is related to Ryohin Keikaku's core value: "To contribute to society and people."
The new medium-term business plan formulated in 2021 indicates, among other things, that Muji stores will tackle problems in local communities. Mr. Takeyama continues: "Providing customers with influenza outbreak forecast information in the store to help prevent infection is part of this plan. We also believe that this is important in accomplishing our company's goal of a 'truthful and sustainable life for all.'"
Although the proof-of-concept test began in this way, there were some initial concerns from within the company about providing information in the store, such as the possibility that customers who saw the outbreak forecast information might feel uneasy.
Mr. Takeyama stated, "We tried to persuade these people to understand that this is an initiative that will benefit the community."
Disseminating information in the same way as weather forecasts
A woman in her 30s living in Osaka who came shopping that day with her baby said, "I think it will be useful for infection control," and then went on to say: "This kind of information makes people think for a second that 'the flu is going around,' so it makes a lot of people pay attention to the flu. I will buy soup to keep warm from the inside out."
A woman in her 30s living in Nishinomiya city also said, "I had never seen outbreak forecast information before, so I hope that more and more information will be disseminated just like weather forecasts. I think it would be great to have this kind of information in the store to prevent infection from viruses when coming to shop on a whim."
Mr. Takeyama noted: "We thought that, by providing this kind of information in MUJI Grand Front Osaka, which is in the center of Osaka, we could be of service to more customers. We have only just begun, but we will continue to monitor customer trends through trial and error."
Contributing to reducing the risk of catching influenza
The Infectious Disease Forecasting Service provides information on future influenza outbreaks and helps reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Shintaro Nakagawa, who is in charge of the service's business development at Hitachi, had the following to say about his aspirations for the future:
"We will digitally analyze various things, including product sales and customer feedback, and reflect the results in service upgrades to make the service even-more valuable to users by improving convenience. We at the Hitachi Group will continue to help people through 'social innovation businesses' such as this service."